Trip to Rio: I don’t have much space to write here but Rio is truly a remarkable city. I went there with some degree of fear given the hype about it being an unsafe place but I was lucky enough to witness only the best of the city. It really helped that we had a local carioca (thank you Luiza) organize our itinerary as well as to take us for some authentic carioca experiences (e.g. for a football game & to a reserve beach with amazing waves). Rio has beaches, beautiful nature, amazing views, samba, a Christ overlooking the city and much much more. I don’t like big cities in general but I took to the energy and diversity of Rio. We even managed to visit a favela through a tour. It did feel a bit weird but I highly recommend this experience. I won’t go into details but I will say that it is like nothing else I have seen in all my travels.
Staying active: Sports are one of my main passions. It has been difficult not playing tennis for so long but at least I got the chance to go running several times around the city park. Moreover, I played football on two occasions with a few colleagues and many skilled Brazilians. I was worried that I would be made to look a fool but I think I preserved Iranian pride to some extent… Staying active is so important, especially when you are working in an office environment, sitting behind a computer all day (Baba – this one is a hint for you….).
Ramadan: Ramadan (the month that Muslims fast) began on August 1st. It is never easy to fast when you are not ‘home’ but I am thankful that I have made a great Iranian friend here who takes me for iftar (breaking the fast) to either the Mosque or the Iranian embassy. Ramadan is a great month regardless but when you can share the experience with others it makes it all the more rewarding. It is a month that never fails to humble me. Of course we all have problems but through fasting we get a small taste of the tribulations that almost one billion people are suffering today. It strengthens my resolve to do something about global hunger. Unfortunately, I think it is so true that we don’t know the true value of something until we lose it. Here is to hoping that we cherish the good things in our life. We remain content but this doesn’t stop us from striving for a better life for ourselves and for others (Toshi – this one’s for you).
Inclusive Growth and the Arab Spring: An interesting question came up the other day in a meeting we had here. Are the uprisings in the Middle East a result of the failure, or presence, of inclusive growth? In other words, are people now more educated and aware of their rights due to some level of development OR is it just that they are fed up with the failures of development to include them? I think that growth in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region has not been very inclusive but that people are now more aware of their rights and sub-optimal situation. For me, the Egyptian example clearly is one that demonstrates the failure of growth to necessarily be inclusive. They witnessed what is called “jobless growth” and the problems with this were exposed through the revolution. The fact that the Egyptian youth were at the forefront of protest is profound. Yet, the fear that I have is that many autocrats will see the recent developments in the MENA region and think that the best way to consolidate their rule is to keep their country backwards as to not empower their people, who might later use this new found education and human security to topple their regimes. If they do, it will only be at their peril though. I feel that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. What do you think?
Final thought: This is my fourth internship now and like the previous internships, I leave feeling that I could have done much more. I am conflicted. I leave more aware of the scale of the problems confronting us – much bigger than I had thought. But I also leave more aware of uplifting success stories, which suggest that there is hope. The question I have (and I think maybe others share) is whether all the UN (and other big organization) reports actually make a difference. Are the diagnostics sound? Are the solutions offered appropriate, adequate, and practical? If so, will policy makers seriously considering following that advice? Will they implement the solutions effectively? There are many unknowns but I guess that one thing that is clear is that these reports have the potential to raise public awareness and open space for dialogue on important development questions.